Mark Reay is a 52-year-old fashion photographer, actor, and former model. He dresses in fine clothes for his aspiring career, attends shows and parties looking for prospective work or simply to drink and schmooze. At the end of each day, whenever his day ends, he retires to his New York home… on an apartment rooftop in a little hidden nook. He is the subject of Thomas Wirthensohn’s fascinating documentary “Homme Less”.
Revealing a stark contrast to the stereotypical notions of homelessness, Wirthensohn shows that Reay is not living under a bridge or on a park bench and his daily job is not standing on a street corner begging for money. For the most part, if you were to pass Reay in the street, you would have no idea he had no home to call his own. He puts on an appearance that he is successful and stable and nobody that he interacts with can tell the difference.
Homeless for around five years, Reay has survived by using a public locker to store a few essential items and public restrooms to clean, shower, and shave himself. His primary “bed” is behind a fence on a friend’s apartment’s roof (the friend lent Reay a key so he could check on the place while his friend was on vacation- his friend has no idea he lives on the roof and coming face-to-face with his friend is a primary concern when sneaking up to the roof). The only access to his “bed” is climbing around the edge of the fence which extends to the edge of the building, so if he lost concentration at the wrong moment, he could fall 4+ floors.
During the many conversations with director Wirthensohn, Reay basically reveals that he is pretty much homeless by choice to save money. He spends $1200-1500 a month on food, insurance, and the lifestyle that supports his aspiring career, among other things. I imagine a New York apartment would be at least double that just for the rent, so what he is doing is admirable despite likely being illegal. He claims he could get a “real” job, but he wants to pursue his dream job; which again is admirable, though many others take on “real” jobs while pursuing their real passion.
This may lead some to hate Reay, which he clearly does not care about- he even says during the documentary to come up to his rooftop to confront him on his choices. Reay is surprising open for a man who has to live a lie day after day. Aside from his lifestyle, he reveals other personal tidbits, like the realization that he has never told any non-family member that he loves them.
The documentary is an intriguing look behind the veil that people put up in their daily lives. The people you pass or interact with during the day, do they go to a house at night? Or have they found some crack in civilization that allows them to live a far cheaper lifestyle than the rest of us?
Reay brought up one thing at the end that I was thinking about the entire time- allowing Wirthensohn to film his lifestyle kind of ruins the needed secrecy. I would not mind seeing a follow up to this about his life after the veil is pierced.